The brilliance of Skepticism’s Stormcrowfleet

A new series of articles in which the writer explains why his tastes in music are so impeccable. The title of the series is a cheap spin on a recurring sketch from the English comedy show The Fast Show.

skepticism-stormcrowfleetThis week I have mostly been listening to…. Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet

Doom divides metalhead opinions. Arguably a lot of it is just regular heavy metal slowed down, so probably doesn’t deserve to be considered a separate entity, and while there isn’t really a definable doom “scene” the music does attract a type of personality and culture that is fatalistic and overly emotional, i.e. not very metal.

Nonetheless, there are at least two bona fide classic metal albums that have come out of doom – Cathedral’s Forest of Equilibrium, and Skepticism’s Stormcrowfleet.

Considered one of the fore-runners of funeral doom (doom played very, very slow), Stormcrowfleet inverts the rock music expectations for predictable, foot-tapping rhythms and offers spacious, atmosphere-heavy music with the rhythmic elements subordinated to the melodic and textural components.

Many doom albums that are near-misses succeed in evoking a morbid, foreboding atmosphere but ultimately fall short because they are music about personality dramas, rather than, as with all the finest metal, music made to mythologicize existence. Stormcrowfleet succeeds because it offers a worldview that is not overwhelmed by external trials, but embraces them and uses them to reframe individual life in the context of something more majestic.

Similarly to Burzum, it creates an experience that is journey-like and transformative, yet vaguely sentimental, although in a way that directs the sentiment towards cosmos, nature, and mysticism. The album as a whole entity doesn’t really arc and conclude as neatly as a Burzum album, but instead it leaves a sense of the thoughts and emotions of the album lingering for a while after it has finished, leaving normal life to seep slowly back in to the room after the experience of the music has finished.


By the healing waters
Of my lovely shores
I laid
The air so bleak
I breathed with my eyes
With my ears
Through aeons went my journey

From these mountains
I swear the world
I am the hammer
I am lightning
By the signs I shall return
To burn all land
Beyond the seas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhhkY9doEX8

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Põhjast – Matused

põhjast-matusedCrafting slowed-down heavy metal in a style that verges on classic doom but incorporates some of the vivid dynamics of black metal, Põhjast release their third album, Matused, to a world audience in need of quality metal faithful to the genre.

Unlike most entries in this sub-genre, Matused is not campy hard rock with metal licks and prolonged droning riffs. Instead, it cuts back to the core of what made heavy metal great, with the amazingly adept vocals of Eric Syre guiding a guitar-driven, riff-based band with a sense of how to create and nurture mood like a doom metal band.

Syre’s vocals highlight these riffs with melodies but do not merely duplicate the notes, but instead serve as a separate instrument, winding around the progressions that guide the song and by carefully choosing where to go in that space, both accentuating consistency and foreshadowing change. Like serpents in the trees of an enchanted garden, vocal melodies slowly enwrap each riff and then merge with it, urging the song on to new dimensions.

Matused follows the time-honored metal tradition of complex songs structures adapted to the material in each song, where riffs comment back and forth. Composition resembles a cross between Candlemass, later Bathory, and Confessor, with thunderous riffs interweaving with vocals while drums keep time with workmanlike precision and bass pumps like a nuclear reactor.

What will win listeners over to Põhjast is the quality of this material, which plays with older riff styles but invents just as many of its own, and its tendency to set up songs so that their dramatic development plays out organically and does not repeat. The result, kicked into high gear by the apparently only recently discovered vocal talents of Syre, drive this band to produce an atmospheric and yet powerful form of heavy metal.

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Cathedral – The Last Spire

cathedral-the_last_spireProduction: Digital compression presents a narrow range of murky distortion, rendering instruments detectable but unexciting.

Review: For their farewell album, Cathedral present a fusion of stoner rock and doom metal riffs, with the occasional synthesizer interlude to break up the monotony. Having chosen to forgo death metal growls, vocalist Lee Dorian belts out vocals in a style more in common with hard rock than with extreme metal.

Tracks are executed competently, as can be expected from a group of experienced musicians. However, what’s missing is any sense of purpose. Tracks drag on for an excessive length of time and while the notes and structures may change, the overall vapid and uninspired spirit does not take leave.

In an attempt to shake the listener awake, the band inserts a few abrupt changes of instrumentation that presumably are supposed to provide energy and new focus to the track, but instead have more in common with the modern metal technique of carnival show composition, whereby vastly different themes are placed in succession and the relationship between them is left ambiguous, while leaving the problem of missing spirit unresolved.

As a concluding release, this is undoubtedly a disappointing way to end the band’s career, as it has more in common with the band’s later work than with their first release, Forest of Equilibrium. Far into the future, that will be what is remembered as the band’s high mark and if it’s remembered at all, The Last Spire will be but a brief and unfortunate footnote.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXb22VAIU6E

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Cathedral launches new album The Last Spire

cathedral-tower_of_silenceNoteworthy doom metal band Cathedral has released a new song named “Tower of Silence” from their upcoming album The Last Spire. It features a mixture of old-school heaviness and modern accessibility, wrapped in a package of skillful structure.

Vocalist and band founder Lee Dorian, who assembled Cathedral after his departure from seminal grindcore act Napalm Death, styles the new album as a return to the form that made 1991’s Forest of Equilibrium so powerful.

“This is the album I’ve been waiting to do since the first one, it almost feels like we made our second album last in some respects,” said Dorrian. “We actually recorded a lot more material but decided to sacrifice many of the tracks to make the overall album feel more complete in its nihilism. I don’t like happy endings, I never have. So many good films are ruined by happy endings and I didn’t want that to be the case with Cathedral, it was my dream to bring everything full circle.”

Cathedral deserve their place in metal history for having essentially resurrected doom metal, a style lying dormant except for a few Black Sabbath-worship bands like Saint Vitus and Pentagram. Fresh from the chaos of Napalm Death, Dorrian reversed his deconstructionist path and instead created a somber, resonant and enduring feeling of pervasive darkness and fatalism, using death metal technique and influences from nascent drone and trance genres to create a new form of the oldest form of metal.

“Tower of Silence” shows us a band more inclined toward 1970s style relatively harmonically immobile riffs, in contrast to the phrasal and drone riffs of the 1990s, and not surprisingly, the vocal and song rhythms follow more of a hard rock pattern than the death metal styles of Forest of Equilibrium. This song has a lot more commercial appeal than anything from the early albums of this band, and so despite having a bit more “bite,” probably belongs in the second era and not the first of this groundbreaking doom metal band.

The Last Spire can be purchased from Season of Mist’s online shop. If the rest of Cathedral’s farewell album is of the same quality as this advance vanguard track that combines the psychedelic rock and proto-metal of the 1970s into a bleak but tuneful package, it will feature on many “Best of” lists for 2013.

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Earthen Grave – Dismal Times

earthen_grave-dismal_timesEarthen Grave casts doom metal with a twist: this traditional doom metal in a form very much like Black Sabbath, Pentagram (US) or Witchfinder General adds a virtuoso violin player and occasional touches of high-speed riffing in the style of death metal bands.

Dismal Times (if they named a newspaper after this album, I’d subscribe) powers itself with good ol’ 1970s metal riffs, appropriated detuned and given the mid-paced treatment that made early Cathedral so successful. They rock along, create a groove, and then into it drop dissonant sounds and a slow-down, imitating what it feels like to run into bad news.

The bad news theme continues throughout this album. “Relentless” rips along in the style of Slayer’s South of Heaven, but then stalls into a dark collision of melody, sounding like a day of ambition that ran full-tilt into a morass of oblivion. The violin of Rachel Barton Pine, renowned classical player and life-long metalhead, dips in and out of the music to accent a riff or zip in a quick fill, contrasting the slow churning riffs.

Vocals are of the higher register type that listeners may be familiar with from Pentagram or Witchfinder General. These work to great effect because the guitars are downtuned and slow, allowing the more able vocals and violin to dart around them and flesh out the layers of sound.

Dismal Times will satisfy metalheads because it is something old and something new; it is classic metal riffs, put together in songs with a mid-paced slightly upbeat feel, but it doesn’t lose what makes it doom metal. Instead, it amplifies it, and shows us that the bad news can be fun reading indeed.

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Earthen Grave signs to Ripple Music for debut album

earthen_grave-earthen_graveTraditional and yet untraditional, doom metal band Earthen Grave plan to unleash their first album, Earthen Grave, on Ripple Music for worldwide release on July 9, 2013.

Featuring ex-Trouble member Ron Holzner and classical virtuoso Rachel Barton Pine, Earthen Grave craft 1970s style doom with the addition of progressive touches and Pine’s elegant but savage violin fretwork. On top of this, the band modernize their sound with a throbbing intensity that is unique to their interpretation of metal.

Originally released in 2012, Earthen Grave was originally released on Claude + Elmo music (and can still be purchased here) but sees re-release with four new tracks and a cover of Dio’s “Stargazer,” complete with the violin talents of Pine, who plays a new type of violin-like instrument called “the Viper.”

In addition to the new album, Earthen Grave launches on a US tour with the following dates in addition to others soon to come:

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Earthen Grave violinist melds classical, metal

Classical music and metal are not as strange bed-fellows as first seems. Both try to take the listener on a journey from A to B via certain key points emphasizing conflict/discovery/victory in a narrative style that’s as old as the hills.

Both rely on a sense of heaviness of life itself in their songwriting, classical from a typically more light perspective, and metal from a darker one. Both are full of references and allusions to literature and ancient history.

As classical violinist Rachel Barton, who plays in doom metal band Earthen Grave in addition to symphony orchestras, points out, metal finds inspiration and even riffs in classical music, but even when it’s going in a different direction it draws from the same well of inspiration.

“When you listen to the great guitar soloists, they’re stealing licks from Vivaldi,” said Pine. She mixes Led Zeppelin, Paganini, AC/DC, Vivaldi and Black Sabbath in some of her live shows, when not creating crashing curtains of doom metal with Earthen Grave.

Classical music is named for its creators’ desire to allude to ancient civilization in form and ethos, specifically but not exclusively the classics – Greece and Rome. What could be more metal than obsessing about the ancient world? In the post-Renaissance world that classical music came out of, studying those older civilizations and reviving their aesthetic values was seen as enlightened and forward-looking, contrary to the “newer is better, always” argument we’re used to hearing about our own times.

Metal and Classical also have in common then that they are both a kind of romanticism: oddly traditional whilst at the same time being futurist and affirming. Through an embrace of the powerful and epic in life, both use an acknowledgement of life’s heaviness to find meaning in its struggle.

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Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate

divine_eve-vengeful_and_obstinate

Divine Eve‘s Vengeful and Obstinate is a three-way cross between Entombed, Motorhead and Cathedral. More technically adept than most doom metal, it alternates between two-chord riffs that are pure surging rhythm and longer, plodding, doom riffs that reduce your soul to ash. On top of the thunderous doom melodic guitar leads both echo and play with the melodies of those long riffs, opening up the sonic space of the album to more possibility.

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Embryonic exhumations – Unearthing classic demos

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas
Helheim – Walpurgisnatt
Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits
Graveland – Drunemeton
Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas

If the architecture of the great Gothic cathedral, with its upward arches, towering spires and cosmic domes laden with images of the suffering divinity on this earthly realm, had been constructed as a kind of sacral road sign to the eternal paradise beyond, then the music of Ras Algethi’s demo is a fitting soundtrack of cathartic expression, a release from the pain and misery of the mortal existence. Like the immortal Oneiricon – The White Hypnotic album to follow, ‘Oblita Divinitas’ relies heavily on the sounds of the mighty organ for it’s intensity as an imposing beacon of death, magnifying the mournful, melodic patterns that guide the listener through the distinct passages of these songs. Where the organ picks up on the general idea of a riff that’s introduced first, the guitars go on to elaborate this phrase in an almost improvisational, though highly restrained, story-telling manner. The bigger picture develops more gradually – far more slowly and funereal than the full-length – and the organs and percussion eventually give way to the austere logic of the main riff, with clever variations that manipulate this momentary freedom from time and space, or blissful acoustic passages that prolong and reflect in it (anticipating ‘When Fire is Father’, one of the most memorable songs on ‘Oneiricon’), before the other instruments return in an emphatic transition, taking the music to an even deeper level of suffering. Ras Algethi show a very mature compositional style from the onset, not just giving a vague sensation of sadness, but carefully detailing the journey with a reference point of possibly going beyond the world that causes it, re-addressing this emotion as a painful longing for release. –ObscuraHessian

Helheim – Walpurgisnatt

Ghoulish, ethereal and enwrapped in a magnetic tape production reeking of ancient tombs and broken 4-trackers, Helheim’s vision of industrial black metal is far more elemental than the connotations of that description during the last decade. As with the primitivist throbbing drum machines of Mysticum and the ambient blankets of Sort Vokter, the aim is ritual-hypnotic music which does not try to spice up black metal in order to make it more comforting or exciting; instead, it challenges one’s concentration by looping, returning and rewiring little fragments and pieces of riff in powerful early Norwegian black metal language, conducted by the raging screams of the now-deceased vocalist Jon A. Bjerk. The svastika simulacrum depicted on the cover highlights the natural difference with the smoother approach of the other Helheim of the same era, famed mostly for the vagrant mythological epics of “Jormundgand” – this Helheim rather spits in the face of the observed tradition in order to bring forth the subconscious terror of life and death that has been embedded in the mythos of all ancient cultures and bring across a pertinent message to the civilization (macrocosmically) and the black metal of our time (microcosmically). –Devamitra

Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits

Remember how disappointed you were the last time you heard a new Varathron or Rotting Christ album? If the same lack of consistency and effort permeates other areas of Greek society, them having descended from the mythic glory of Athene into debts and poverty needs hardly the prophetic eye of Cassandra to fully explain. As in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel “American Gods” the lost European deities are found prowling the Wisconsin backwoods, Chicago based Alioth’s mystical and sensual tribute to Hellenic black metal ca. 1993 is admirably not only a continuation of the electric technoid dynamo drumbeat and an application of the palm muted speed and doom riffs in esoteric underground context; it’s also a highly logically strung sequence of moods as if the physical organization of pain and pleasure in a Dionysian ritual theatre, succumbing with the heavy held back moments of “The Channeling” and “Apocryphal Dimensions” and rising through the interludial “Invocation” and “Invocation II” to softly expire orgasmic relaxation. So much could be created out of this basic concept that it’s a pity the full-length album has remained cloaked in the depths of the primal sea, while Wargoat Obscurum iterates far less subtle (and far less interesting) metal with Cult of Daath. –Devamitra

Goreaphobia – Morbidious Pathology

Goreaphobia’s debut album wouldn’t have been quite so eagerly anticipated without a strong back catalogue of minor releases such as the ‘Morbidious Pathology’ demo, which provides an unexpected listening experience if Mortal Repulsion is the only recording you’ve heard from the band. Where the full-length communicates visions from the abyss through the blank eyes of an old mystic locked in a lucid dreaming state, this demo is full of enough youthful energy to express the paranoia of a thousand souls trapped within the claustrophobic confines of their own mortality. Variations in riffs reflect these tightly packed structures, seeming to progress with not so much a linear logic than the re-arranging of parts of the whole, like limbs being removed from a body and sewn on to somewhere else entirely until the true grotesqueness of humanity is revealed. As with Mortal Repulsion, despite the physical connections to Incantation, there is a stronger similarity to the craftsmanship of Immolation and albums that would come in later years, such as the complex and disjointed but melodically evocative Here in After. The lead guitar work, though highly restrained, possesses a sense of neoclassical refinement that bridges some short-burst riffage with eloquent but totally disturbing solos. This demo shows the beginnings of an all too rare experiment in Death Metal where you can observe the maturation of a consistant idea as it goes through the turmoil of a tortured, temporal existence. –ObscuraHessian

Graveland – Drunemeton

It’s not difficult to understand the distaste that Darken has for the recordings commited to tape during Graveland’s infancy in the light of his recent catalogue of pristine, epic and Atlantaean creations. Some distance away from the expansive scenes of battlefields and expressions of Romantic nationalism, this ancient offering from the living master of Pagan Black Metal is totally shrouded in a necrotic production, like ghostly shadows moving through oaken forests, casting a spell within more cloistered and Druidic surroundings than the output of Graveland from the past 15 years. Alongside the visions that created the force of Scandinavian Black Metal in the early 90′s, this demo represents the reclusive and misanthropic esotericism of that era, especially the primality of the lowest fidelity cults, Beherit and Ildjarn. Sounding like the work of a punk ostracised by that increasingly over-socialised group for being too idealistic and inhuman, Darken conjures a lurid interpretation of hypnotic Bathorean riffing that develops through the echoing of majestic, synthesised voices that open this recording as though a prologue to ‘The Celtic Winter’. The experimentation with primitivism in ‘Drunemeton’ is so deconstructionist that the guitar technique becomes fragmented completely and subordinated to reveal gloomy ambient moods that amplify the silence of a forest at night before the dawn of battle. There’s a similarity to the Beherit song ‘Nuclear Girl’ in how the guitar is used more like a sample, reverberating it’s texture through the keyboards to emphasise a cloistered sensation, accompanied by monastic chants at other times. Culminating in the ambient classic, ‘The Forest of Nemeton’, this demo is the successful beginnings of Graveland’s exploration into unconventional and nihilistic territory beneath the folky phrasing of guitar-led melodic work, which would shape the dynamic of his entire discography to follow. –ObscuraHessian

Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Fifteen years ago, we were too proud and lofty to listen to it, our sensory devices soothed and inflamed by Panzerfaust, Battles in the North and Høstmørke, while the new generation of neo-progressive and mainstream black metal bands sought to enrapture even wider audiences with movie soundtrack influenced keyboards and angelic female voice conjured by fat-bottomed gothic tarts. For the atmospheric maniacs only, as it’s hard to argue for its musicality against the likes of Vikingligr Veldi; but the epic wanderlust and distorted pagan death ritual of this demo’s centerpiece, “Fimbulwinter”, unfolding like a flower at dawn or the psychedelic mandala of LSD invading brain receptors, is one of the pure innocent and mesmerizing gems of underground black metal in this sacred and forsaken era. The primal Isvind-esque melody dance like ripples of waves on a forest pond, the hissing tracker production complete with the macabre clack of a drum machine and the dampness of a Nordic bedroom cellar permeate the recording to such a thickness of adolescent black metal fury that it’s hardly palatable to generic audiences then and now. Barely a trace of the fast norsecore of the more familiar debut album Kill For Satan is noticeable here, the only similarity being the guitarist Draugluin’s technique of bricklike tremolo chord architecture where rhythm plays little importance. While primitive, this compositional method bears an intrinsic beauty which is worthy of recapitulation when the pure augustness of early Norwegian black metal has mostly become forgotten in favour of seemingly more rich and elaborate indie stylings. –Devamitra

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Dantesco – Pagano

The challenge of creating relevant but still traditional Heavy Metal in this current age where even the most commercial face of Metal has been changed by the extremity of the underground seems to be an almost insurmountable task. The most recent efforts of mainstream veterans like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in continuing the genre provides little in and of themselves to enthrall the masses as they did with their once advanced, Romanticist art. There are also the countless Power and Doom Metal bands that have hijacked the older forms and do so with little to none of the magic that possessed the music of the seventies and eighties. Though the secrets of the grand, old tradition have been apparently condemned to obscurity, they can never be lost and befitting the nature of lost wisdom, have turned up in the least likely of places.

Dantesco hail from the small Latin American island of Puerto Rico and through their music, divulge a rich tradition of Spanish music and highly exoteric and vibrant Catholicism. Although chronicling the triumphant Heathen soul at war with Christendom, ‘Pagano’ conjures the sounds of the immanent culture and possesses it with a bestial inflection, as the vocals of Erico that dominate this album resemble a Latin black mass arranged with the magestic sensibilities of an European opera. Infact, the vocal style is as properly operatic as imagineable in Heavy Metal music, putting the high-pitched aspirations of a Rob Halford or Messiah Marcolin in their places, though still conveying a sense of extreme primality and visceral power rivalled only by the demonic throats of Black Metal vocalists. These sermons are conducted exclusively in the native Spanish tongue, which suits the guitars incredibly well, as the melodicism of the riffs is only supplemented by the Doomy heaviness of Candlemass influence, but really crafted with Spanish classical guitars in mind. This is where the music really comes alive, before there’s any chance of hearing the vocals as just a unique ethnic gimmick to fill space with. The compositions are constantly engaging, commanding narratives the scale of the epic title-track to Iron Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son‘ with attention to mood dynamics often passed over in favour of an intentionally one-dimensional wallowing by other bands who play this melodic, traditional and Doomy kind of Metal. All the techniques on show have been long perfected, and more recently, have even found their way into the mallcore slang of pre-teen alternative/hard rock bands (via. Gothenburg), but fortunately, it’s all found an orderly, emotive and inspiring expression in ‘Pagano’. The tight but hyperbolic interplay of vocals and guitar is a feast for those that love to follow several strands of ancient melody at once, as if transforming the old Hispanic anthems of Mexico’s Luzbel into rousing, harmonised hymns, tempered and then unleashed to invoke the spirits of pre-Christian warriors. True Heavy Metal, fit for contemporary ears, giving the current crop of extreme-influenced Pagan and Black Metal bands a serious run for their money.

-ObscuraHessian-

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